LITTLETON - No, there will not be a repeat Montachusett League Championship for the Ayer-Shirley-Harvard-Littleton Titans. North Middlesex made sure of that in the opening round of the league playoffs Sunday. North Middlesex came into the game with the second worst record in the league at 4-9, but come playoff time, records can be tossed out the window.
The Patriots rode the right-arm of their starter Sam Ineson who threw a complete game to pick up the 6-2 victory. Ineson fanned 11 Titans while allowing just two hits.
"Sam did a great job," said North Middesex head coach Ken Brown. " He also did a great job holding runners on. Our catcher, Chris Canning, threw out two or three runners today. I think that's what's so great about summer ball- It's development. You can work on specific elements of the game, and I am really pleased seeing some of the young guys using what we are trying to get them to use."
ASH sent its ace James Ray to the hill and he scattered four hits over three innings of work, as the Patriots tested his arm in the early going. North Middlesex leadoff man Dan Considine battled his way back after going down 0-2 in the count to pick up a walk.
Billy Burns bumped up Considine to second when he thumped a 0-1 curveball up the middle. With no-one out and two on, North Middlesex second baseman Mark Canning went to work.
Mark Canning connected on an off-speed pitch and sprayed it down the third base line for a bases clearing double, as Burns and Considine trotted home to give North Middlesex the 2-0 lead. Ray dug down deep and buzzed down Chris Canning and Nick Barry looking to end the inning.
The dart-throwing Ineson coaxed a fastball in on the hands of ASH leadoff man Steve Smith. Smith fisted the pitch back to Inseon who fielded the ball on one hop and fired over to Kevin Costello at first for the first out of the inning. Eric Kwan and Ray both reached on hard-hit balls that were misplayed by the Patriots' middle infield.
However, Ineson was no worse for the wear, as his defense helped get him out of the mini-jam. Kwan took off for second, but Ineson stepped off the rubber and bolted straight for Kwan. Kwan would eventually be tagged for the second out. North Middlesex catcher Chris Canning hosed down Ray with a stellar throw to end the inning.
Ray pitched himself into a corner in the second inning with two-outs, as he loaded the bases. Ray surrendered a slicing double to Casey MacFarlane that dropped into left field. Ineson was plunked on the left shoulder by Ray. Next, Nick Ravanis sneaked a little dribbler that skipped over the back lip of the infield to load the bases.
Considine worked his second walk of the afternoon, this time it brought across MacFarlane. Two more runs would come across for the Patriots in the inning on a throwing error. North Middlesex went up 5-0 after two innings.
ASH picked up one run in the second inning, as center fielder Ryan Pichel snuck in from third, after he reached on a single to start the inning. Ineson issued a walk to Luke Snyder, and then proceeded to strike out the bottom third of the Titans' order.
ASH reliever Michael Wing kept the North Middlesex order in check until the sixth inning after coming on in relief of Ray. Sam Ineson's sacrifice fly to right field had enough hang time to allow Brandon Borneman to cross home with an insurance run to put the Patriots out in front by a comfortable 6-1 margin.
Pichel scored the Titans final run after he walked to start the seventh inning. Pichel took home on a throwing error, but Ineson buckled down after walking the first two batters of the inning. Ineson caused a fly-out to Nick Benullo and then struck out Andrew Lombardo and Sam Presti to end the ballgame.
North Middlesex advances to the next round, where its opponent is still yet to be determined.
"I think everybody contributed," said Brown. "I love having a really seasoned catcher working with a young pitcher. To have Chris back there moving around location and calling the game-a young guy learns a tremendous amount by having a mature catcher behind the plate."
North Middlesex out hit the Titans 6-2.